Samantha Elliot’s Titirangi Home Renovation Is a Lesson In Organic Architecture

By Johanna Thornton
Interior architect Samantha Elliot at home in Titirangi. Photo / Babiche Martens

Inspired by the work of renowned architect Ron Sang, interior architect and designer Samantha Elliot’s own home is a tribute to the local area, as well as a sanctuary nestled in the Titirangi bush.

Her clients come to her for her minimalist, organic, mid-century-style architecture.

“People don’t come to

The self-described “organic geek” favours a holistic and sustainable approach to design, ultimately striving for spaces that feel great to be in. It’s why she called her design-led business Green Room Studio, specialising in residential design and renovations that favour simplicity and a less-is-more approach.

“Green speaks for itself in some respects,” she says. “There is an obvious link between wellbeing and the spaces that we live in and spend time in. I think it’s important we surround ourselves with spaces that make us feel good and functionality is a big part of that.”

It’s a design ethos she’s put into beautiful practice with her own home renovation in Titirangi, where she lives with husband Mark Hughes and son Walt, 19 months.

The couple bought the “typical Titirangi“ 1950s two-storey house two and half years ago, attracted by its bush-clad location with no neighbours in sight.

They set about remodelling soon after moving in; “the house was pretty ruined”, says Sam, who drew up a plan to totally rescope the home with a new kitchen, dining and living area upstairs, as well as a hidden powder room, and three bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs.

Pioneer Red joinery in the kitchen, which looks out to native bush. Photo / Babiche Martens
Pioneer Red joinery in the kitchen, which looks out to native bush. Photo / Babiche Martens

Inspired by the work of local architect Ron Sang and his iconic Brake House in Titirangi, Samantha went for a “Japan-Di” style for her own home, a mix of Japanese and Scandinavian design elements rendered in “light oaks and natural elements that work in beautifully with the bush”.

She’s used Pioneer Red joinery in a nod to Ron’s work and the ubiquitous red roofs of Titirangi, which adds a mid-century feel to the interior and pops against the home’s new black board and batten exterior.

“I wanted it to be different and unique and timeless in a way,” says Sam.

The project has been completed in stages and like all renovations, the process hasn’t been smooth sailing. Sam and Mark, a builder, have been managing the renovation themselves around full-time jobs, with the majority of the work completed on nights and weekends. Home for the trio is a small studio on the property, previously Sam’s office. It’s been a juggle, and pushed out their completion date to August.

Samantha Elliot kitchen. The kitchen is streamlined and seamless thanks to built-in cabinetry. Photo / Babiche Martens
Samantha Elliot kitchen. The kitchen is streamlined and seamless thanks to built-in cabinetry. Photo / Babiche Martens

But with the kitchen, entry and powder room complete and the dining and living not far away, Sam has a moment to reflect on the home’s progress. For her clients, the ultimate goal is “coming home and having a beautiful space to be in”, and she’s certainly achieved that here.

The kitchen is a serene combination of oak flooring, oak veneer cabinetry and Taj Mahal granite countertops, one with a waterfall edge and the other rounded to create a breakfast nook. At one end, a red-framed glass door opens onto a vegetable garden, and at the other, light floods into the space via wall-to-wall windows that frame the native bush outside.

“The kitchen gets the most epic morning sun,” says Sam. “It streams through and those battens create a shadow onto the other wall, creating quite a nice effect.”

Light streams in through ample windows. Photo / Babiche Martens
Light streams in through ample windows. Photo / Babiche Martens

Gently curved Brave handles from Australian company Linear Standard appear on the pantry, dish drawer and the powder room doors, adding organic lines to the streamlined built-in cabinetry. It’s a design effect she plans to continue in the downstairs bedrooms.

Functionality is huge for Sam and the thing she’s most proud of is the kitchen storage. The ultra-minimalist kitchen bench with no toaster in sight is made possible by the oversized pantry, hidden behind sleek oak-veneer double doors and containing all her appliances and accessories. Cupboards also obscure her new bin and compost systems. “It’s all just hidden and nothing has to sit out.”

More storage will be provided by custom built day beds that will extend from the kitchen bench to the dining area.

Built-in cabinetry and storage is a key feature of the Titirangi home renovation. Photo / Babiche Martens
Built-in cabinetry and storage is a key feature of the Titirangi home renovation. Photo / Babiche Martens

In the entry and stairwell, built-in cabinetry and a bookshelf designed by Sam and built by Your Space Developments delineates the space and creates ample opportunity for displaying treasured mementos — and stashing them away.

At one end, a door opens to reveal a powder room clad in cedar, with more custom bathroom cabinetry, automatic lighting and a Made of Tomorrow Blob mirror. While the rest of the upstairs space feels expansive and serene, this room is intimate, dark and playful. “I feel like a powder room can be different [from the rest of the house]. It can be its own special little space,” says Sam.

The powder room is hidden away behind a sliding door and oak cabinetry. Photo / Babiche Martens
The powder room is hidden away behind a sliding door and oak cabinetry. Photo / Babiche Martens

Another space Sam’s been busy designing is the Design Depot at Ponsonby Central’s Sapphire Room, which is set to be a central hub for the inaugural Auckland Design Week, which kicks off on March 10. Sam’s proficiency with organic architecture made her the ideal person to fit out the Design Depot, which will house a biophilia-inspired immersive concept showcasing sustainability-focused brands.

Sam has come up with a sensorial-sounding “walk-through” space representing elements and the seasons. There’ll be a zen garden and a winter garden, a “cloud room” and a campfire setting for visitors to experience. “We’re utilising a lot of suppliers and they are showcasing their products in a completely different way than they normally do.” From Heritage Carpets in the cloud room to Green Air and Spacebar Design in the zen garden, the space will act as a showcase for local designers.

A curated selection of mementos on the bookshelf. Photo / Babiche Martens
A curated selection of mementos on the bookshelf. Photo / Babiche Martens

It’s hoped Auckland Design Week will amplify the city’s talented design community with tours, workshops, demonstrations, speaker panels and screenings across 15 Auckland showrooms in three design “districts” in Grey Lynn, Parnell and Mt Eden/Uptown. Sam laments on the loss of Urbis Design Week, which the design industry looked forward to every year. She hopes Auckland Design Week might fill that gap.

“I think as a designer it’s good because Auckland doesn’t necessarily have anything that showcases what everyone’s about and there are some epic people out there doing some cool stuff and no one knows about it. People travel to Melbourne or across the world for design week and Auckland just doesn’t have anything like it.”

Back home in Titirangi, the afternoon sun is streaming through those red-framed windows, creating warm reflections on the oak floor. Paying homage to the surroundings and the homes of Titirangi, Sam’s home is testament to the power of organic architecture. If the Design Depot is anything like her own home, visitors are in for a treat.

Interior architect Samantha Elliot. Photo / Babiche Martens
Interior architect Samantha Elliot. Photo / Babiche Martens

Samantha Elliot’s top tips for creating beautiful spaces

- Built-in cabinetry is a great option for maximising storage space. A full-length built-in unit can provide ample storage options, and can be customised to suit the homeowner’s specific needs.

- Consider incorporating extra storage under beds or in daybeds to help keep a room organised and clutter-free. This can be especially useful for storing extra blankets, cushions, or other items that may not be used on a daily basis.

- Size is an important consideration when it comes to designing rooms, especially bedrooms. A minimum of 3m x 3m is ideal to ensure the room feels spacious and comfortable.

- I’m forever inspired by the way well-placed shapes create a sense of order. Like a simple floating wall, dividing a space but doubling as a concealed storage piece. This is the art, the focal point. A wardrobe behind a master bedhead is a great example of this.

- Take advantage of natural light and beautiful views. A bedroom with a garden outlook or a view of the surrounding landscape can create a sense of tranquility and relaxation, while ample natural light can help create a warm and inviting atmosphere. When designing any space, it’s important to consider the orientation of the room and the placement of windows. A room that is situated to take advantage of morning or afternoon sun can help create a bright and cheerful space that’s perfect for starting or ending the day. In addition, incorporating skylights or other sources of natural light can help create a sense of spaciousness and airiness in the room.

- To reduce the amount of noise that enters a room, it is important to consider the materials used in the construction of the walls, ceiling and floor. Adding extra insulation in the walls and ceiling can help to block out noise from adjacent rooms or external sources. Acoustic plasterboard is another option that can help to reduce noise transmission, as it is designed to absorb sound instead of reflecting it. In addition to the materials used in construction, it is important to consider the types of doors and windows used in the room. Cavity and surface sliders are known to be poor at blocking out noise, so using hinged doors can be a better option.

- For windows, double-paned glass can help to reduce noise transmission. If you are planning to have an ensuite bathroom, consider the impact the plumbing fixtures and ventilation systems can have on noise transmission. Installing a quiet fan and choosing low-noise plumbing fixtures can help reduce noise in the bathroom and the adjacent rooms.

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